Selecting Your Summer Intensive Auditions

I’m so pleased to see how many dancers are making use of the BalletScoop list of  2013 Summer Intensives! Let’s talk about how to select auditions. I advise auditioning for as many programs as you can without exhausting yourself or negatively impacting your schoolwork, but it helps to have a basic idea of what you want early on.

So before you get overwhelmed by the 300+ program options, take a moment to consider what you envision for yourself for summer training. What are you trying to achieve in the next few years? Are you leaving home for the first time and simply focus on improving your technique? Do you need to look for work or get exposure to artistic directors? Will you be pursuing college? You maybe best served by a particular type of program, and each type offers various features.

Conservatories (generally):

  • are not attached to companies, but may have indirect connections
  • provide the smallest class sizes
  • offer heavy supervision
  • take a focused and nurturing approach
  • are well suited for younger dancers and first-time SI students
  • may serve as an audition for the year-round residential program

Company schools (usually):

  • are directly connected (or in some way affiliated) with a professional performing company
  • offer flexible supervision with expectations of somewhat mature level of personal responsibility
  • may have large class sizes
  • are particularly well-suited to older dancers and those preparing to try for professional work in the next two years
  • may serve as an audition to the trainee program, second company or apprenticeship program

University programs:

  • are run by college dance departments
  • may offer scholarships or tuition credit to the university for summer attendees
  • have a wide range of class size, instruction quality, supervision and intensity depending on the quality of the dance department
  • are ideal for younger and older dancers intending to attend college after high school

Regulatory institutions:

  • Have self-governing authority over a particular style of ballet technique
  • Offer certification to students and teachers after completion of a course and examination
  • Are well-suited to dancers pursuing professional performance or teaching careers

Stand-alone programs:

  • Are sometimes affiliated with a festival, competition or convention
  • Often bring together a hodge-podge of famous dance faculty
  • May offer opportunities to see professional performances as part of the program

Exceptions to these exist. For example Ballet West’s program is the official summer program of both the professional company and the University of Utah. And some company programs make a concerted effort to provide a highly nurturing, conservatory environment to better accommodate very young dancers.

Once you have this choice in mind, you can filter the list to show only the type of programs that suit your immediate goals. This will narrow the list considerably. After that, it’s time to the click links provided and research the websites to discover other details like:

  • courses and dance styles offered
  • tentative schedules/hours per week
  • housing and board options
  • tuition costs and scholarship availability
  • in-house faculty and guest teachers
  • session lengths and date flexibility options
  • eligibility requirements beyond age

Note that consecutive sessions are only listed separately when there is a material difference in their purpose. So for example, ABT summer sessions are listed separately because of their different locations and age requirements, while Indiana University’s program is listed as one contiguous event even though they technically have two identical programs back to back. Be sure to look for programs that are extra early or extra late — you may be able to attend 2-3 full programs if you plan wisely!

Now that you have your short list, get movin! If you can’t attend all of the live auditions you need, a DVD audition is your next best option and the time to start making it is now. Once you have audition and received your acceptance, wait-list, or rejection letters, visit Choosing Your SI to help make your final decisions.

Dear CBT: Does No Scholarship Now = No Contract Later?

If a student is accepted into the last two years of a selective company school without a scholarship, is she less likely than those who did get scholarships to be considered for the company? Is it more likely that she will mostly serve to benefit the school as a paying student? Or will she be considered to have equal potential for entrance into the company or second company?

I have been warned that only scholarship recipients move up into the company past graduation from these prestigious schools and have noted that most biographies of company dancers list their scholarship wins. My daughter was not present for the summer session that would have made her eligible for a scholarship. She was offered a scholarship for two consecutive years at another program but did not attend.

How important are acquiring scholarships and making it to the YAGP finals for determining whether a company will seriously consider a student at their school for their company? If these accolades are not in place, will the student be overlooked for advancement, no matter how hard she tries??

Thanks,

– Concerned Mom of a Determined Dancer

Dear Concerned Mom,

The short answer is: No, going to a company school without a scholarship or competition placement does not generally affect a student’s chances for employment overall. And here’s the longer answer! –

Scholarships are only one indicator of a school’s interest in developing a student and their belief in her potential at that specific point in time. We cannot extrapolate that out to years in advance because future events depend on the student’s continued development. Students who are expected to do great things will sometimes disappoint, and students who seem average sometimes work their tails off and take the lead. While many pros list scholarships, many do not. Finally, artistic direction can change in a heartbeat, leaving former favorites looking elsewhere for jobs.

YAGP and the various IBCs are a subject onto themselves. There is an endless amount of debate on their worth. Suffice it to say that they are one method that is great for particular types of dancers in particular situations (Vague enough for you? I’ll do a post on sometime to explain.), but a huge segment of the professionals did not participate in those competitions during their training.

Accolades like these indicate how the student performed during a snapshot in time. Certainly, those that succeed habitually tend to continue to succeed – that is why you see so many pros with such records. But these are not prerequisites to a good career, just indicators of possible career potential. Scholarship or YAGP placement or not, a dancer must continue to work hard, show her worth and improve. At the conclusion of training, the directors will decide whether the dancer should enter the company based on her capabilities at that time. I have cautioned people before that scholarships are great indicators of a school’s enhanced interest and the projected potential of a student at a particular moment in time – but they are far from a guarantee of anything. The same goes for the your situation. Getting into a top school without a scholarship (which is great on its own, by the way, and still show interest), is a valuable opportunity.

Not getting a scholarship has no bearing on whether a dancer will be accepted into the company. Grimly perhaps, all students are facing those slim odds from an equal standing. What matters at the end of the training road is: Is the dancer fully prepared to give the current artistic director what the AD wants and needs in a performer at the same time that a contract spot is available?

Summer Training: Workshop, Intensive or Camp?

Summer programs come in many varieties for all sorts of dancers, but they can usually be categorized as one of three types: intensive, workshop or camp. What defines each? Let’s take a look at each type of  program.

  • Camps – Dance camps usually accept a range of abilites and experience levels and offer classes geared less to professional aspirants and more to those interested in dance to expand their life experience and for the sheer joy of it. The focus is usually on improving technique with a few classes a day while leaving time for lots of fun activities and events for socializing and enjoying the summer. These programs can be as short as one week or as long as all summer. Examples of dance camps include Just for Kix Summer Dance Camps, Brant Lake Dance Camp and American Dance Training Camps.
  • Workshops -Workshops can have the same daily intensity as intensives, but they usually last just 1-2 weeks. Workshops often take place in university settings, regional schools or as add-ons to summer intensives. For commerical dancers and students working towards high-level versatility, putting together a workshop tour of multiple programs that span the summer is a great tool for training. Some workshops are dedicated exclusively to younger dancers or for choreographic experimentation. Examples of workshops include the Broadway Dance Center Summer Workshop Series, the Florida State University Summer Intensive Dance Workshop, the Regional Dance America National Choreography Intensive and the School of American Ballet’s Los Angeles Workshop for Young Dancers.
  • Intensives – Summer intensives (or SIs for short) are designed for professionally-oriented students and generally consist of 4-6 weeks of all-day lessons. They can be competitive and are usually associated with professional companies or residency conservatories. SIs may be based off of regional, national or international programs. Examples are the Boston Ballet School Summer Dance Program, the University of North Carolina Summer Intensive, the Harid Conservatory Summer School and the School of American Ballet Summer Course.

Any of these types of summer programs may offer guest teachers for a few days or weeks out of the program. If you are looking for an intensive, notice that the presence of the word “intensive” does not necessarily mean that the program falls within the above guidelines. On the other hand, true intensive programs may choose not to use the word “intensive” in their title. Take the time to look closely at the daily schedule, faculty and duration of each program to decide where each program falls.

How can you decide what type is right for you? That depends on many factors, including your available funds and scholarships, your dance goals and the specifics of the program’s training schedule and faculty. Make a list and consider your realistic goals and desires in dance. At the higher levels, an audition will certainly be in order, which could possibly limit your options.

Don’t assume that higher level programs are beyond your reach financially – I’ve seen many high quality intensives that cost the same as some smaller workshops. But note that the quality of one is not necessarily higher than the other based on cost, size or other single factors.

There are tons of options out there, and I’m sure you already have ideas about what’s ideal for you. If you’re heading to a summer program right now, think about your experience so you can decide if the program worked well for you. Think about what you want next year. There are tons of options out there, and there really is something for everyone. You have the power of choice, so exercise it!

Spendin’ Cheese: Affording Your Passion for Dance

Unless you’re regularly receiving full scholarships for your dance tuition and sponsorships for your dance gear and other expenses, you may have heard your parents grumble more than once about the high cost of paying for your ballet (or jazz, or contemporary …). There are lessons, shoes, practice clothes, travel expenses, costumes and many other items to pay for in order to keep you in training.

First, the bad news: Your parents are right to question the worth of your many dance-related expenses. Don’t underestimate how burdensome it can be to support this kind of training on an average family’s salary. Good dance training and supplies cost serious money – often thousands and thousands of dollars each year. A proper dance education is a financial extravagance, and raising a family is financially challenging enough without this additional expense.

Some dancers are fortunate to have parents that can – and zestfully do – contribute to their talented offsprings’ pursuits, but more than half of the aspiring dancers I have known came from average financial backgrounds. So how can you make it all work? What do you do if your parents threaten to stop paying for your training?

There is some good news…

YOU can help.

That’s right, you probably have a lot more influence over this situation than you might think. There is a way that you can ease the financial burden, impress your parents with your dedication to your dancing and encourage them to contribute to your training. How you ask? By working!

Ok, ok, don’t click away just yet. Working doesn’t have to mean slaving away at American Eagle for a few bucks an hour. Though that is certainly an option! (Ah, the zen of folding a gazillion skinny jeans into neat stacks.) As a young dancer, I had a few sponsorships and scholarships, but I paid for a lot of my own training and gear as teenager with money I earned babysitting, teaching the children’s classes at my studio and even cleaning houses.

You don’t need three jobs on top of school and dance to impress your parents and be helpful though! Consider taking two babysitting jobs a week. If you charge $8 per hour, you could easily make over $100 per month. Agree with your parents that if they will pay for your tuition, you will pay for your dancewear, shoes and costumes – but you have to stick to the deal. Make sure you can pay for necessities like pointe shoes first and save up for any extra training programs and travel expenses before buying fun leotards and warm-ups.

If you can’t bring yourself to start working or to use your hard earned dollars to help your family with your dance expenses, it might be time to reevaluate whether dance is truly your passion or just a pursuit. If you enjoy it immensely but decide that you don’t want it enough to make sacrifices like this, you might find that you are happier just taking a weekly class for fun instead of a daily schedule. And that’s worth knowing for your own sanity’s sake! If it is your passion, you will probably find that you feel motivated to contribute and excited to be able to start taking charge of your own dance training.

As a final note: Money is very tight for a lot of people these days. My heart goes out to you if your family is dealing with a loss of employment or other financial hardship. There are undoubtedly situations where young dancers in this economy simply will not be able to continue to train regardless of how much they are able to help out. If this is your situation, know that there is a world of dance waiting for you when you are all grown up and on your own. There is a whole universe of people who started or continued dance after high school due to issues like this, and many of them love and enjoy taking class much, much more than they ever would otherwise.

You be the Judge: Choosing Your SI

Have you been accepted to more than one SI? Congratulations! If your parents are considering allowing you to attend but you (or your parents!) are feeling clueless about how to choose one, read on to hear how to find your best summer training experience.

During your SI auditions, not only are the judges assessing you – You should be assessing them as well. Often, the audition is the first stage of substantive contact that a student has with a potential summer intensive school. Whether or not the audition class is also a master class, you should be able to get a feel for the teacher and whether they represent the kind of school you would like to attend. Ask yourself these questions during the audition:\

  • Are they working from a technique that I enjoy and want to learn more about?
  • Is the teacher/auditioner likeable and someone that I would like to be around for six weeks?
  • Is the teacher good at managing the class?
  • Does their audition process foster a professional and efficient learning environment?

You can extrapolate a lot about a school from your audition experience, just the same way that they are extrapolating a lot about you from the same brief encounter. Not every student is the right fit for every school – and vice versa! The audition is both their opportunity and yours to assess whether your talent and level will be best cultivated in their environment.

Nowadays, acceptances are more quickly available than ever. Many SI programs will post them online. Once you know what your options are, it is time to employ your power of choice. Using your audition experience and an easy activity, you can ge a clearer picture of your favorites and not-so-favorites. Before assessing the schools who have accepted you though, you need to take some time to decide what you are looking for in a school.

Because consistency in training is absolutely essential for younger dancers, I recommend that dancers stay with their home studio until they reach 13. For students between the ages of 13 and 15, I recommend that SIs be chosen first and foremost for individual attention and nurturing developmental environments, like many rural, suburban and smaller regional programs offer. Conservatory SIs are excellent for this and have the added appeal of offering a taste of their year-round program. Also for younger dancers, splitting the summer between two different programs can be a more realistic option than for older dancers.

From the age of about 15-17, I recommend that students push themselves to attend more competitive programs, perhaps in urban areas farther from home where there may be greater chance of exposure to directors/choreographers and increased development of the students personal responsibility. When the students get to the age of 17 and older, I recommend that they seek out programs that are commensurate with their ability in terms of potential employment – so no SIs without professional affiliations unless they are specifically looking to enter a conservatory year-round. I also recommend that students give special consideration to programs extending scholarship money, which may mean the company has interest in potentially employing the student in the future. At any age, if the student is interested in a conservatory prep school, the appropriate SI should be chosen in order to serve as an audition for the year-round program. (Don’t know whether you want a company school or conservatory? Check out this great article from Dance Magazine.)

Once you’ve decided what kind of program you need, create a spreadsheet or handwrite a chart with your SI options listed down the left side of the page. At the top, make columns with these headings:

  • Techniques:
  • Audition Experience (Poor/Average/Excellent)
  • Location (Rural/Suburban/Urban)
  • Distance from Home (Close/Mid-range/Far)
  • Supervision (Tight/Medium/Light)
  • Environment (Nurturing/Average/Competitive)
  • Class Sizes (Small/Average/Large)
  • Teachers (Good/Excellent/Unknown)
  • Pro/Prep Programs (Trainee/Apprentice/Conservatory)
  • Level (Local/Regional/National)
  • Reputation (Good/Excellent/Top)
  • Scholarship Offered (Yes/No)
  • Performance Opportunity (Yes/No)

These list is not exhaustive, so be sure to make columns for features of interest to you that I may not have included. Next, indicate the response that you prefer for each feature. For example, a young student leaving home for the first time and her parents might want the options I’ve placed in bold here:

  • Techniques: Cecchetti Ballet, Partnering, Modern & Jazz
  • Audition Experience (Poor/Average/Excellent)
  • Location (Rural/Suburban/Urban)
  • Distance from Home (Close/Mid-range/Far)
  • Supervision (Tight/Medium/Light)
  • Environment (Nurturing/Average/Competitive)
  • Class Sizes (Small/Average/Large)
  • Teachers (Good/Excellent/Unknown)
  • Pro/Prep Programs (Trainee/Apprentice/Conservatory)
  • Level (Local/Regional/National)
  • Reputation (Good/Excellent/Top)
  • Scholarship Offered (Yes/No)
  • Performance Opportunity (Yes/No)

Once you’ve decided what your preferences are for each feature, fill in the boxes for each school by reviewing the information made available by the school website, in the brochures and if necessary by phone call. Once you have everything filled in, look at what schools have all of your preferred features and which ones are easily ruled out.

It may not be possible to find all the information you need from the school’s publications. If you are looking for real dancers’ and parents’ descriptions of the particular SIs that you review, check out my favorite resource for chatting on all things ballet, BalletTalk for Dancers. Create a free account to view their substantial and comprehensive message boards for virtually all 2011 Summer Intensives. All BalletTalk message boards are moderated by respected ballet professionals.

These activities should narrow your list considerably and give you a better understanding of what you want to get from your summer investment of time and perhaps significant money. The idea is to find the best program for you personally – what’s best for you might not be what’s best for your friend – but don’t stress if you end up with more than one awesome SI option. That’s a good thing! Most known SI programs offer great instruction in a safe environment, so there aren’t many wrong answers when it’s time to choose. And the sheer number of hours you will put in at such a program will virtually ensure that you will see some very decent improvement over the summer. With a little bit of research and effort though, you can help to ensure that you won’t just be headed to a great summer intensive – you’ll be headed to the program of your dreams!

Getting Accepted: What Are “They” Looking For at SI Auditions?

Summer Intensive auditions are now in full swing, and I’ve gotten tons of great questions from you guys lately about what the SI adjudicators will be looking for! I know you all sometimes feel a lot of pressure about these auditions, but you should know that the adjudicators will make it as positive an experience as possible. Often, your audition fee will be a “master class” fee, and you will have the benefit of instruction and correction from exceptional teachers during the audition class.

I know what you’re really interested in, though, is the nitty-gritty of how your are being judged. Many factors are considered in your evaluation. I like to divide these factors into two categories: physical attributes and performance attributes.\

By physical attributes, I am referring to the body of the dancer. Dancing is a sport (and of course an art), and just like any sport you must have a body that is physically capable of doing the work required. Your adjudicators will be looking for dancers of a healthy weight who have a suitable physical facility for ballet. By facility, I mean dancers with:

  • Good rotation for turn-out
  • Long, flexible limbs
  • Supple muscularity
  • Balanced proportions
  • An overall good “look”

Of particular interest to auditioners might be:

  • Longer limbs combined with a shorter torso
  • A small head
  • High but strong and controlled arches
  • A touch of hyperextension in the knees

Of course, we can’t talk about ballet bodies without getting to the touchy question of weight. I am not going to sit here and tell you that SIs never accept underweight dancers. Sadly, some SIs might overlook an underweight dancer who is able to hobble through an audition, but these dancers generally do not make it far in ballet (or sometimes even that SI) due to their sheer inability to physically keep up. Without a proper muscular structure and proper food intake these dancers inevitably cannot perform as required. One of the saddest things I saw as an SI student was when dancers were sent home from a program for concerns of being underweight or unable to physically keep up. It goes without saying that being overweight will be similarly inhibiting, and that an athleticly slim figure is often preferred. So the most important thing is to be of a healthy athletic weight, and that means being neither over nor underweight.

Physical attributes are secondary to performance attributes, however, and these attributes include movement quality and the dancers ability to … dance! Performance attributes include:

  • Quality training commensurate with age
  • Good basic placement and core strength
  • Coordination
  • Musicality
  • Proper use of plie
  • Good lines
  • Strong and articulated feet
  • Quality port de bras
  • Extension appropriate for age
  • Strength on pointe, if appropriate
  • Ability to understand corrections
  • Ability to apply corrections
  • Ability to pick-up choreography quickly
  • Style and artistic expression
  • Great mental attitude
  • Passion for and enjoyment of dancing

You probably notice that the first ten items on this list are all related to technique. Remember that these adjudicators are not looking for perfection. In fact, up to the age of about 14, they are giving quite a bit of consideration to the dancer’s potential. If you are lacking in technique due to inadequate instruction for example, you can show through your ability to pick up corrections and choreography that you are very teachable and therefore perhaps an excellent candidate. As you get a bit older, however, adjudicators will be looking for a more finished product. By the age of 17 or 18, you will want to present yourself as a dancer who has most of her technique and movement quality at a professional level. They will want someone at that age to be working mostly on artistry with perhaps some technical fine-tuning remaining to be done.

Do not underestimate the importance of the last two items I’ve listed. Showing your love for dance through enthusiasm for learning and enjoyment of movement can and often does cause an adjudicator to give a student a second, third or even fourth look. Avoid the “deer in the headlights” look at all costs! Be present in the moment, attentive, focused mentally and with your eyes, and remember why you are there in the first place … because you love, love, love to dance!

Merde, ballerinas! May you all have an exciting and educational audition season!!

Preparing Your SI Audition Season

You have reviewed the summer intensive audition tours for this season and know what schools are visiting your area… You have been taking classes for a few years at least and are excited to see what the student audition circuit will be like… Visions of acceptance letters are dancing in your head! But wait – how do you get from sitting in front of your computer to opening one of those promising envelopes?

Preparing an optimal audition season for yourself takes thoughtfulness and preparation. You are going to have to be very proactive and responsible. There are a lot of to-dos, but it’s all very straightforward. And wouldn’t you know, I’ve got it all laid out for you in a nice checklist!

_____ 1. Get organized! Open a Word document and start a numbered list of the auditions you want to attend. Include all of the auditions that you are interested in, even if you’re not sure you can make it. Note the date, time and location (studio and city) for each one.

_____ 2. Rearrange your list by date, placing the earliest audition at the top. Look for conflicts. Inevitably, two good schools will overlap on one date, and you will have to choose between the two. If this happens, take a good look at the schools and talk to your teachers to decide which one you prefer.

_____ 3. Go down your list and ask yourself – What auditions are coming within easy traveling distance of your hometown? Which ones would require significant travel? Are those auditions worth a road trip? Can you get together a group of other dancers for a carpool to some of the auditions that are farther away? Make notes about this for each audition.

_____ 4. Share the list with your parents. Talk to them about your desired audition schedule and which auditions they will drive you to or that you will be allowed to drive to. Mark all of those auditions on your calendar and on your family calendar.

_____ 5. For those auditions that your parents either cannot drive you to (or that you are not allowed to drive to), ask if you would be permitted to go with a friend or with another dance parent. Contact dance friends that might be interested in carpooling and see if they (or their parents) can take you together or with a group, and then put these auditions on your calendar and your family calendar. (If you are unable to get to an audition that you really wanted to attend, don’t worry – a DVD audition is a good alternative. I’ll talk about those in a later post.)

_____ 6. You should now have your final schedule! It’s time to preregister. Quite a few schools have made preregistration available on their websites. Carefully check each school’s site to see if this option is available. Some schools have made online preregistration mandatory! It would be very embarrassing to get turned away for overlooking this step.

_____ 7. It’s time to get prepare your audition materials. Most schools have a page on their website describing the audition requirements in detail. Print out this out for each of your auditions.

_____ 8. Let’s talk about photos first. Each school has unique photo requests that are usually listed on their website, but you will be pretty much set for anything if you take the following shots in pink tights and a black leo (no skirt) with full stage hair and makeup and in pointe shoes (if you are that advanced): 1) a close-up headshot from the collarbone up, 2) full body first arabesque, 3) full body tendu a lá seconde with arms in second, 4) full body favorite pose. Professional photos are not necessary and are not the norm for students, but a teacher may be able to better than a parent for taking photos that show you to your best advantage. A size of 5×7″ is usually preferred. Write your full name and age on the back of each print.

_____ 9. Next is money, honey. SI auditions usually cost between $30 and $35 payable in cash, check or money order. You will have to check the audition information for each SI to find out which payment methods are preferred for each. Be up front with your parents from the get-go about this if you are relying on them to cough up these fees. If they cannot or will not subsidize your auditions (or any other aspect of your training for that matter), you are going to have to decide how important this is to you and, if it is truly important, how you can earn the money you need perhaps by becoming an assistant teacher or offering to clean the studio for your directors.

____ 10. Finally, there’s always random stuff that schools will want. (For example, SAB requires proof of birth at the audition.) You need to carefully read the websites and maybe even make a few phone calls to make sure you collect what you need to have.

You’ll notice that as a student, résumés, professional photos and recommendation letters are not a part of most auditions. Not only that, such materials will often be turned away by schools that do not specifically ask for them.

Now that you have your materials, go back to your list and create an audition packet for each school. Pay special attention to photo size and type specifications, payment preferences and preregistration. If you have read each school’s website carefully, you will be a-okay.

You have now prepared an excellent SI audition season for yourself – Well done! In my next post, I’ll let you know what to do on the day of an audition – and what to expect.